Date- 20/2/2013

CHAIR: Dr. Ankur Datta, Department of Sociology, South Asian University, India

DISCUSSANT: Dr. Diya Mehra, Department of Sociology, South Asian University, India  


Prof. Steve McDowell, Communication Studies Program, Florida State University

Prof. Biswajit Das, Centre for Culture, Media and Governance, Jamia Milia Islamia, Delhi

A panel discussion on Mass Media in South Asia was held at South Asian University. The panelists brought in the issues surrounding contemporary media scholarship and practice in the region.

Prof. Mcdowell talked about the emergence of new media and communication research. He, while talking about the new media in US, stated that the new media blurs some traditional boundaries by giving the example of wireless mobile phone and email which has made the communication process much more personal than ever before. He further argued that new media challenges the existing media structure and media industry.  Therefore the real challenges of new media in media research are – first, what kind of research, theory, concepts are to be used in research and second, to what extent research can be made practically beneficial to the society.

He mentioned that communication studies borrow from large disciplines such as Advertising, Public Relations, Classical Study of Rhetoric and Media Institutions. However, he also said that there could be some variations in other communication schools.

According to Prof. Mcdowell, the South Asian region is made up of certain factors that make it unique. Some of these are vibrant democracy, although sometimes it is notorious,  and strong social movements.  He said that media studies have to accommodate the ongoing challenges of democracy. Some of these issues include – 

  • Debate on rule of law, media governance, civil society, significant opposition groups, tremendous social/ linguistic diversity etc

  • Diaspora connection

  • Free and open press

He then talked about the Network paradigm as a new methodological approach in communication research. One example of application of network analysis is the study of hyperlinks in determining the quality of website. Here quality of a particular website is measured by the number of connections a website has with many other websites through hyperlinks. According to him, some networks are static but some networks like social network e.g. facebook can be configured very quickly for the issue as evidenced in protests in Delhi i.e. new communication based on the interests.   

Prof. Stephen Mc Dowell argued communication is a diffuse field and the goals of communication inquiry really do fit well with making partnership with other disciplines like sociology and network paradigm is a new method in media research.

The next panelist, Prof. Biswajit Das,  set the background of his talk with reference to 1947 and his childhood. And then, he talked about his research on archives of Colonial radio. He said that the idea of South Asian identity is already high in political agenda.

He argued that the very notion of ‘mass’ in mass media is very fragmented. When we say ‘mass’ we have already compartmentalized the target group or audience. This is the irony of mass media. In fact, according to him, only sociology can prevent such conceptual problems in media studies.  

On media research, he argued, none of media course in the region equips students in media research. There are some courses but   we are not in position to generate the data sets about ourselves out of current media scholarship. He emphasized the ability to develop and draw upon a huge set of quantitative data on cultural, economic and political indicators and all the South Asian audiences.  


Prof. Babli Moitra Saraf summarized the arguments made by both panelists. She also analyzed the connections between both presentations. She stated that constant touching paradoxes of both presentation are – network and access, power, and question of elite.  

She argued the news construction should be understood in the light of politics of construction. More importantly, she argued that South Asian identity is more than possible, it is desirable. On network, she argued that network does  not just create communities but also excludes community.

Similarly, Prof. Chudamani Basnet also raised the issue of access in relation to exclusionary networks and digital divide. He asked the panelists about the state of Community Radio station in other countries of South Asia other than Nepal where Community Radio is considered as a huge success and exists in a large number.

Responds to Discussants

Prof. Steve:

Not all networks are good. It is not just electronic media. It is about forms of analysis.

Prof. Biswajit:

Community Radio is an “alien concept”. Our community is not like the American University. Community Development programs failed when NGOs are just as mini enterprises. If you want to get radio license, you need to walk around the six ministries in India, however, there are ‘facilitating center  by which the license comes to the metro station.    

Question from the audience and speaker’s answer  

Amongst many questions, a particularly significant question about the topic and the answer is presented as follows.

Question How can we imagine homogenizing South Asian mass media, when nation – state itself is heterogeneous?  

Prof. Biswajit:

South Asian homogeneity is not possible. It’s about regional epics and about the market. The identity is just a camouflage. India is a big market and the countries are scared. When we have a movie like ‘Gadar’ which expresses extreme nationalist values, how will people in Pakistan react? Homogeneity is, therefore, more about ‘living together separately’. When talking about the South Asia, we should know which South Asia we are talking about. Is it the South Asia imposed upon us? South Asia can have common regional policy to solve the common problem as in EU where they have common agricultural policy.

 Rapporteur: Manoj Dhakal, M.A. Sociology 2nd Semester, SAU


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